Flight disruptions from the fallout of Hurricane Irma stretched into Thursday and beyond, with nearly 1,000 additional flights canceled through Saturday.
More than 645 flights had been canceled nationwide as of 12:30 p.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. More than half of those came in Miami, with airports like Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville accounting for most of others.
Already into the weekend, another 385 flights had been grounded on Friday and – so far – about 60 for Saturday. Again, most of those came in Miami and at other Florida airports hit by Irma, FlightAware’s tally showed.
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Overall, at least 17,000 flights have been canceled in the U.S. and the Caribbean since Irma first began affecting flights. That count would put the storm within range of the 20,000 flights canceled during “Superstorm Sandy.” That 2012 storm had one of the most-severe impacts on U.S. aviation of all weather-related events in the 2000s.
In Florida, the continuing cancellations underscored the challenge awaiting both airlines and airports as they tried to resume normal schedules.
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For airports, in addition to addressing damage that may have been caused by Irma, operations could only resume once personnel had returned. Many Floridians evacuated ahead of Irma, meaning many workers first had to return to the area before they could take up their posts at the airport. That affected everything from airport retail outlets to staffing for TSA and United States Customs and Border Protection locations.
Airlines faced a similar scenario. Planes that were flown out of the state to avoid Irma’s wrath first had to be flown back in. That process began in earnest on Tuesday, though it was likely to take much of the week for schedules to ramp up. Crews also had to be flown back in so they could be positioned to staff outbound flights.
While most Florida airports had resumed airline service, it was expected to take longer for Key West. Airlines hope to resume flights by this weekend, though those schedules remained uncertain. Also uncertain were flight schedules for the hard-hit Caribbean airports serving St. Martin and St. Thomas, the latter part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Still, in Florida, there were hopeful signs for fliers.
American Airlines said it anticipated returning to a near-normal schedule at Miami by the end of the weekend. American is the dominant carrier at Miami, which is the airline’s third-busiest hub (by passengers).
In Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida International Airport (airport code RSW) was one of the later airports to resume flights as it worked to restore power. But airport officials there were optimistic that flights could largely be back to normal by next week.
“Heading into the weekend, things look good for a full flight schedule at RSW,” spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said to The News-Press of Fort Myers.